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Stanley Cup Final postcard: Nashville's Tom Gulitti takes in city's history with visit to Belmont Mansion

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- This city's connections to music and, of course, hockey have gotten most of the attention during the Nashville Predators' run to the Stanley Cup Final.

But while I was here, I wanted to explore some of the history of Nashville, which found itself in the middle of the action more than once during the American Civil War.

On Feb. 25, 1862, Nashville became the first Confederate capital to fall into Union hands. At the time, it was the second largest city in Tennessee behind Memphis and home to the Nashville Armory, which manufactured arms for the Confederate government.


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It was also home to Belmont Mansion, which was one of the most elaborate homes of the antebellum South with 36 rooms on an estate of 180 acres that featured formal gardens, gazebos, a bowling alley, art gallery and even a zoo. I visited the Belmont Mansion, which is now part of the grounds of Belmont University, on Monday during a break between the morning skate and Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The mansion is open daily for guided tours, which last about an hour. Admission is $12.

Much of the main structure, including the grand salon with its Corinthian columns, gasoliers, statues and fine paintings, has been restored to appear as it did during and in the years immediately following the Civil War.

Belmont Mansion and the land surrounding it were occupied by Union forces commanded by General Thomas J. Wood prior to and during the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 15-16, 1864. Owned and built by Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham and her second husband, Joseph Alexander Smith Acklen, Belmont Mansion occupied one of the biggest hills in Nashville and its cupola provided a clear view of the city, making it a prefect vantage point for General Wood to view the battle.

Adelicia would've been an extraordinary woman in any age. She was married three times, had 10 children and amassed one of largest fortunes in the U.S. during her lifetime. Prior to their wedding, Adelicia made Joseph sign the equivalent of a prenuptial agreement to protect her wealth (she was worth about $1 million at the time).

Not ignored during the mansion tour is that much of that wealth was accrued on the back of slavery. Adelicia's first husband, Isaac Franklin, was a slave trader and Belmont was served by a host of enslaved workers.

During her second marriage, Joseph managed Adelicia's land holdings and after his death on Sept. 11, 1863, she had 2,800 bales of cotton in storage in Louisiana that was in danger of being lost. A resourceful Adelicia traveled to Louisiana with a cousin and was able to sell that cotton to a broker in England for $960,000 in gold, which she collected during a trip to Europe after the war.

When the Federal Army began to entrench on the southern perimeter of Nashville, Adelicia and her children abandoned Belmont and stayed in town at the home of the widow of James K. Polk, the former governor of Tennessee and 11th President of the United States.

The estate's water tower, which supplied a fully functional bathroom on the mansion's first floor, was used as a lookout point and to relay signals. Union troops tore down some of the structures around the estate for firewood and to fortify their defenses, but the mansion somehow escaped the battle unscathed.

The battle ended as one of the most lopsided Union victories of the war and effectively ended the fighting in the Western Theater.

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